Florida baseball gets big win over USF; Gators learn Hunter Barco to have surgery

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Led by a record-breaking performance at the plate by Jud Fabian, the Florida baseball team defeated South Florida, 18-3, Tuesday night at Condron Ballpark. 

UF’s 18 runs marked a season-high, and it came amid a lineup change, with Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan opting to play Kris Armstrong and BT Riopelle at third and first base, respectively, against the Bulls over Deric Fabian and Kendrick Calilao.

Nick Pogue earned the midweek start on the mound for the Gators (26-18, 8-13 SEC) and allowed four hits across 4.0 innings of action. 

“I thought Pogue’s start was about as good as he’s thrown the ball all year long,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I thought he got on top of the ball good, he had good shape to his breaking balls, was pitching a really good change-up down the strike zone.”

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The Bulls (23-21, 4-11 AAC) opened the game with a pair of singles, and before the Gators could get the second out, USF plated the first run of the night on a groundout single by Sonny Rao. 

But Florida, its postseason hopes hanging in the balance, quickly erased any notion of a midweek letdown to USF. 

“I think games like this are really good for the locker room. Those guys work just as hard as everybody else does, and to get someone like Kris in there and give Deric a day to get his legs underneath him,” O’Sullivan said, “and get a couple of these other guys in there, like I said, it’s good for the locker room and it’s good for team morale.”

Here are takeaways from Tuesday’s contest.

Jud Fabian hits three home runs

Florida outfielder Jud Fabian (4) watches as his third home run of the night sails out against USF, Tuesday May 3, 2022 at Condron Ballpark in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators beat the Bulls 18-3.

It was a memorable night for Ocala native Jud Fabian, and a record-breaking one, too. 

Fabian launched a trio of home runs against the Bulls, including a grand slam in the second inning that extended Florida’s lead to 8-1. He opened the scoring for the Gators by hitting a two-run shot in the first inning, erasing South Florida’s only lead of the night. 

Finally, with the outcome all but official, Fabian delivered a third home run in the seventh inning, which scored fellow Ocala native Sterlin Thompson. Fabian finished his night with eight RBIs, and his three home runs gave him 51 in his UF career, moving him past JJ Schwarz for fourth in program history in career home runs. 

Fabian, in his fourth year at UF, had a theory for what led to Florida’s prowess at the plate. 

“I think this game meant a little more to the guys that were here last year, because of what they did last year, celebrating on our field,” said Fabian, referencing USF’s 5-3 win over UF in the 2021 NCAA Regionals. “So I think this game meant a little more to us, due to the fact of that, and I think it was just all harnessed within ourselves, and we let it out.”

Kris Armstrong, BT Riopelle benefit from lineup change

Calilao and Deric Fabian had the night off Tuesday, giving the Gators a chance to play Kris Armstrong and BT Riopelle on the corners. 

If Florida was looking for a spark at the plate with the switch, it worked. 

Armstrong drove in three runs on a pair of hits, including the night’s only triple, while Riopelle had a solo home run in the second inning. Both players went 2-for-4 against the Bulls, meaning the duo combined for 25 percent of Florida’s hits on the night. 

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” O’Sullivan said of Armstrong. “It was a good night, it was a really good night.”

In the top of the second inning, Riopelle took a knee to the head during a collision at first base, as Colby Halter’s throw was off the mark. Riopelle collapsed to his knees, and a UF trainer quickly ran to his side. Soon, O’Sullivan followed to check on the transfer, but he was able to stay in the game and shake it off. 

By the bottom half of the inning, Riopelle had alleviated any concern the hit would hinder him at the plate by delivering a home run to right field, his 13th home run of the season. 

“He got banged up a little bit, I think the runner’s knee hit him right here,” O’Sullivan, pointing to the side of his head, said. “But he seemed like he’s fine.”

Hunter Barco to have Tommy John surgery

There was a bit of disappointment in the wake of Florida’s 15-run victory over South Florida, though the announcement likely didn’t catch the team by surprise. 

Sophomore pitcher Hunter Barco will undergo Tommy John surgery, effectively keeping him away from the field until the 2023 season, Barco announced Tuesday night on social media.

“I unfortunately will be missing the rest of this season as I am undergoing reconstruction surgery on my UCL, also known as Tommy John surgery,” Barco wrote in an extended message. “If I have thrown my last pitch in the orange and blue, I will forever cherish every moment and memory made in a Gator uniform. As always, Go Gators!”

Barco, Florida’s ace, was shut down indefinitely due to elbow discomfort prior to the weekend series against No. 1 Tennessee. 

He had pitched a season-low two innings the weekend prior at Vanderbilt, with O’Sullivan initially optimistic about Barco’s situation as he attributed his low workload to fatigue from a recent illness. A Jacksonville native, Barco was having an impressive season, with a 2.50 ERA in 50.1 innings across nine starts prior to his injury.